Justice Minister launches public consultation on Consent to serious harm for sexual gratification: not a defence

Date published: 09 November 2020

Justice Minister Naomi Long today launched a public consultation following a review on the use of ‘consent to serious harm for sexual gratification’ as a defence.

Justice Minister Naomi Long

In its June 2019 inspection report “No Excuse:  Public Protection Inspection II:  A thematic inspection of the handling of domestic violence and abuse cases by the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland”, Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) recommended that the Department of Justice should review how potential inadequacies in current legislation regarding the act of choking or strangulation by defendants could be addressed. 

Naomi Long said: “In light of CJINI’s report, I commissioned a full review to identify and address any inadequacies in the current legislation regarding choking and strangulation.  Following an amendment to the Westminster Domestic Abuse Bill, I have broadened the review to include consent to serious harm for sexual gratification not being a defence, sometimes known as the ‘rough sex’ defence.

“I have given this aspect of the wider review of strangulation policy and legislation priority to allow earlier consideration of actions to tackle this important issue.  The consultation process covering this defence will give victims, stakeholders and other interests the opportunity to contribute to shaping our future policy and legislation in this challenging area.” 

While the law on this defence has progressed in England and Wales, Northern Ireland can continue to rely on the case law on such consent and victims should not be significantly disadvantaged.  However, a similar level of certainty in the law is desirable.

The Review has focused on the wider policy regarding consent to serious harm for sexual gratification and is not questioning the rationale behind individual prosecution or sentencing decisions, or the independence of the Public Prosecution Service or the judiciary.

The consultation will run for 8 weeks from 9 November until 4 January 2021

The Department of Justice is happy to meet to discuss the issue in line with any request received (and in line with current Covid 19 restrictions).

Responses to the consultation can be submitted via Citizen Space at https://consultations.nidirect.gov.uk/doj-corporate-secretariat/consent-to-serious-harm-not-a-defence

If you require a copy of the consultation in an alternative format please contact the Department by email Consent.Consultation@justice-ni.x.gsi.gov.uk or in writing to Consent Defence Review Team, Department of Justice, Massey House, Stormont Estate, Belfast, BT4 3SX.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office via email at: press.office@justice-ni.x.gsi.gov.uk
  2. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours’ service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted out of hours on 028 9037 8110.

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